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Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them (California Studies in Food and Culture) Paperback – 8 Feb 2008
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"A decidedly proactive voice for healthy balance and moderation in fat consumption."--"Gastronomica: Journal of Food & Culture"
A nutritional whodunit that takes readers from Greenland to Africa to Israel, "The Queen of Fats" gives a fascinating account of how we have become deficient in a nutrient that is essential for good health: the fatty acids known as omega-3s. Writing with intelligence and passion, Susan Allport tells the story of these vital fats, which are abundant in greens and fish, among other foods. She describes how scientists came to understand the role of omega-3s in our diet, why commercial processing has removed them from the food we eat, and what the tremendous consequences have been for our health. In many Western countries, epidemics of inflammatory diseases and metabolic disorders have been traced to omega-3 deficiencies. "The Queen of Fats" provides information for every consumer who wants to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and obesity and to improve brain function and overall health. This important and compelling investigation into the discovery, science, and politics of omega-3s will transform our thinking about what we should be eating.It: includes steps you can take to add omega-3s to your diet; shows why eating fish is not the only way, or even the best way, to increase omega-3s; provides a new way to understand the complex advice about the role and importance of fats in the body; explains how and why the food industry has created a deadly imbalance of fats in our foods; and, shows how omega-3s can be reintroduced to our diet through food enrichment and changes in the feeding of livestock. See all Product description
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One small word of caution: in the 11 years or so since the book was published in 2006, views on saturated fats have changed and I believe that comments such as those on the association between heart disease and saturated fat along with the advice to cut down on saturated fats would now be presented in a rather more nuanced way and perhaps the advice would be quite different.
Accessible and easy to read, I warmly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter.
Susan Allport is an experienced science writer who understands the science; everything is clearly explained, but nothing here is dumbed down - the reader is expected to be able to keep clear the difference between linoleic and linolenic acid, and not to baulk when confronted by 'docosahexaenoic' - so readers with a low tolerance for scientific terminology may struggle a little at first with the chemistry. The struggle is worth it, because this is a rare example of popular writing on the subject of food and human nutrition that respects the science while acknowledging the complexity of the process whereby laboratory science is translated into real-world advice.
That process is a messy one. Allport's research involved interviewing many of the participants in the emerging science of omega oils, and what she uncovers is as much a tale of good intentions and legitimate confusion as of food industry chicanery and governmental procrastination. The story of the 'queen of fats' - omega-3 - is an object lesson in how far overly simplistic explanations of complex nutritional phenomena may damage public confidence in experts.
Although this is not a diet book, a single chapter at the end offers a list of eleven ways in which the interested reader may try to restore omega-3 oils to his or her diet, and - more importantly - correct the common dietary imbalance between these oils and the omega-6 oils which compete with them. Importantly, Allport stresses the role of non-fish sources of these oils: a serious consideration when any proposed increased dependence on fish in the diet cuts against environmentalist concerns.
150 pages of text: timeline of events; glossary of terms; notes; index.
This book explains the science which went on in the twentieth century to uncover the truth about Omega-3, what is wrong with the twenty-first century western diet and how and why that has an impact on our health. Like any good popular science writer (this is more than a health book), Susan Allport make her subject very accessible and the book contains some fascinating nuggets of information. You would not have known for example that Omega-3 oil is in fact not some hidden rare elixir of life lurking in the body parts of a few types of fish but the most common fatty acid to be found on the planet. Nor would you have known that increasing your Omega-3 intake would have little effect unless you also decreased your Omega-6 intake.
The book was perhaps a bit too long on the history and I would have liked her to devote more chapters to current food production issues, the impact of omega-3 on health and even more detailed advice. However, the extensive notes and bibliography has inspired me to research these further.
As a result of this book, I have thrown out all the cooking oils, salad dressings and so-called healthy margarines in my fridge and swig cold-pressed linseed oil every day. As a result, in less than a month, I feel more energised and centred. I have lost weight without even trying to diet and my skin feels soft and "proofed". A definite result.
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You'll learn such things as:
* How omega-3s got their name
* How they were discovered and by whom
* Why omega-3s are removed from processed foods
* Disease that can occur because of fatty acid deficiencies
* Why reducing omega-6s in the diet is as important as increasing omega-3s
* Why grains are rich in omega-6s and greens are rich in omega-3s
* The difference between omega-3s found in flax seeds and those found in fish
* Why Eskimos eat a lot of fat but are free of heart disease
* The role of fatty acids in promoting or reducing inflammation
* Why some important research findings never gets published
* The role of fatty acids in metabolism
* Where and why the various fatty acids are found in high concentrations in humans and animals
* How to incorporate more omega-3s in your diet and find a healthy balance between omega-3s and omega-6s.
Allport writes, "Trying to undertand health and diet without an appreciation of these fats is like trying to understand earthquakes without knowledge of plate tectonics, or motion without knowledge of physics. Until we revise our food and guidelines to incorporate all that has been learned about omega-3 fatty acids in the past fifty years, our diet will be lacking in a very important way."
To address the hubbub regarding Atkins, Allport claims that the Atkins diet (or any low-carb diet, it seems) is dangerous, because the weight lost on such a diet is really muscle loss due to the body breaking down muscle proteins to create glucose for the brain that supposedly cannot rely entirely on ketones. Also, the increased intake of protein can lead to organ failure and a wasting condition known as "rabbit starvation."
From my understanding, the brain actually prefers ketones, and rabbit starvation occurs when too much protein and not enough fat are consumed (rabbits are very, very lean). The low-carb diet I followed involved replacing carbs with fat-not protein. And anyone who's lost weight on a low-carb diet can tell you they lost fat. It's no "illusion," as Allport claims. I suggest that if you want to learn about low-carb diets, that you read books specific to them, not books on the history of fatty acids.
The low-carb issue aside, I love this book (I've read it three times) and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about fatty acids and the history of fatty acid science. Allport's writing is exceptional, and The Queen of Fats remains a valuable addition to my health library.
Michael Pollan, also a journalist, cites and summarizes her book in his better-selling review of modern nutrition, In Defense of Food. This is what led me to purchase Allport's book. Unfortunately, she does not have Pollan's gift for prose, but by examining in greater depth what he refers to as a possible "unifying hypothesis" of the effects of diet on modern disease, she makes up in content for whatever she lacks in style. Even if omega-3 fatty acids do not ultimately prove to be as critical to human health as she suggests, her book is worth reading as a fascinating account of how new insights into the role of nutrition in health are still being worked out, and the time and research it takes to overcome existing dogma. For practical application of these ideas, with less emphasis on their historical evolution, I would recommend Artemis Simopoulos' The Omega Diet.
I particularly liked the way she told the story from the point of view of the maverick researchers involved, showing how much patience and dedication it takes to not just discover new ideas, but have them heard and accepted. Many interesting facts are sprinkled along the way, from the rarity of diabetes among Eskimos, to the differences in cell membranes between emus and hummingbirds, and why we should care. Bravo to the people who ask these questions and to Susan Allport for informing us of the answers!